Jeff Brandes Archives - Page 2 of 45 - Florida Politics

Fundraisers set for three GOP special election candidates

Florida’s top Republican lawmakers are lending a helping hand to the GOP nominees in three special elections going down this fall, according to fundraising invitations sent out Friday.

A fundraiser benefitting Republican Rep. Jose Felix Diaz’s Senate bid is set for Sept. 14. Senate President Joe Negron and the two Senators in line to succeed him in that role, Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson, will host the event in Tampa at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse.

Joining them for the 6 p.m. fundraiser are Sens. Jeff Brandes, Tom Lee and Dana Young. In addition giving Diaz a boost, the fundraiser is also being put on for Senate Majority 2018.

Diaz is running to take over for disgraced former Sen. Frank Artiles in SD 40. He beat Alex Diaz de la Portilla in the special Republican Primary for the seat, and now faces Democrat Annette Taddeo, who scored her first win at the polls in five tries – once for Miami-Dade County Commission, then as Charlie Crist’s lieutenant governor pick, and twice for Congress.

The general election is set for Sept. 26.

Danny Perez, who won the GOP nomination to succeed Diaz in HD 116, and Robert “Bobby O” Olzewski, the Republican nominee to replace former Rep. Eric Eisnaugle in HD 44, have a joint fundraiser set for Sept. 13 in Tallahassee.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran is top billed on the host committee, and like Negron his successors will be in tow: Jose OlivaChris Sprowls, and Paul Renner.

The fundraiser kicks off at 5 p.m. at the Florida Realtors building on South Monroe Street.

Perez is running against Democrat Gabriela Mayudon who has less than $100 in her campaign account, while Bobby O is facing Democrat Paul Chandler, who is near open warfare with the Florida Democratic Party.

The invitations to the events are below:

 

Is Tampa airport expansion ‘betting big’ on old tech over distuptors like ridesharing?

Tampa International Airport is preparing for the future, moving ahead with a multibillion-dollar expansion project while setting new passenger records in 2017.

However, Noah Pransky of WTSP found that TIA appears hesitant to embrace the latest transportation disruptor: ridesharing technology companies Uber and Lyft.

With significant ridership increases, Uber and Lyft have impacted airport revenues from parking and rental cars – two conventional ground transportation options that are a key element in the planned Phase 1 of the airport’s expansion.

“We’ve made this huge bet on rental cars that I don’t know if it’s going to pay off,” state Sen. Jeff Brandes told WTSP. During the 2017 Legislative Session, the St. Petersburg Republican helped jump-start an audit of the airport’s multi phase construction project. “I would love to see them move faster (on emerging technology).”

WTSP 10Investigates reported in July that the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority is setting new fees on Uber, Lyft, and taxicab fares from TIA came after the agency failed to meet projected benchmarks in parking and rental car revenues.

What’s more, the airport waited until just this summer to adjust its long-term master plan to accommodate the tech disruptors, by adding new curbsides at each terminal in downscaling Phase 2 of its expansion, despite Uber entering the Tampa market five years ago, and has been impacting airport revenues for at least two years.

Business management firm Certify estimates ridesharing accounts 63 percent of U.S. business travelers’ ground transportation expenses, a number far outpacing both rental cars (29 percent) and taxicabs (8 percent).

Nowhere is this difficulty in embracing the future more obvious than with airport’s construction project that adds “people movers” two shuttle travelers to a new rental car facility. TIA CEO Joe Lopano hailed the addition as one that will “give our guests access to twice as many rental car choices,” removing as many as 8,000 cars per day from wrote surrounding the airport.

Pransky reports that those 8,000 cars make up only short trips on the airport’s main and back roads – not terminal curbsides themselves – most susceptible to congestion, particularly with increased ridesharing. In addition, those estimates came from a 2011 study, using numbers from peak season, which predated ridesharing in Tampa.

The airport has not yet plan for increased congestion from Uber and Lyft vehicles using curbsides.

“Were we too late? Maybe,” Lopano said when asked about how quickly the airport has responded ridesharing. “But I think we have the right solution.”

 

Jeremy Ring raised $45K in July for CFO bid, spent $60K

Former state Sen. Jeremy Ring headed into August with about $130,000 on hand after spending more than he raised in July for his Chief Financial Officer bid.

The Margate Democrat brought in a total of $45,396 between his campaign account and his political committee, “Florida Action Fund PC.” Combined, the two entities spent $60,515, including a $20,000 payment to the Florida Democratic Party.

Among the other $40,000 in spending was more than $10,000 in payments to D.C.-based MDW Communications for a website, $4,800 to NGP VAN, Inc., based in Washington, D.C. and Somerville, Massachusetts, for IT work and a slew of $1,000-plus payments to various consulting groups across the Sunshine State.

Contributions to the committee included $10,000 from the Firefighter FactPAC, $5,000 from the Pelican Bay political committee in Naples and $2,500 from the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters. The campaign account took in $26,000 in July across 38 contributions, including $3,000 a piece from Robert Greenberg, Eric Becker, Adam Stein, James Stork and Nadezda Usina.

Ring is currently the only declared candidate for Florida CFO, is now held by Republican Jimmy Patronis, who was appointed to the position after Jeff Atwater left the job earlier this year to become the CFO of Florida Atlantic University.

Patronis, a former lawmaker himself, hasn’t said whether he would run for CFO, but several of his former colleagues in the Legislature have hinted they might take a stab at the Cabinet seat in 2018.

Possible Republican entrants include state Sen. Tom Lee and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

A couple of Democrats have been floated as candidates as well, including former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy.

Report: Florida’s imprisonment rate is 23 percent higher than the national average

The national crime rate in the U.S. has been steadily declining since for two decades and is currently at its lowest rate since 1968.

Likewise, Florida’s crime rate has dropped over the past few decades, but it is still 15 percent higher than the national average. And its imprisonment rate is 23 percent higher than the national average.

Those are just two findings included in a recently released report on Florida’s prison population trends that was published last month to little public notice, but was referenced by St. Petersburg state Senate Senator Jeff Brandes at an appearance at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club last Friday.

“Our system is broken,” said the Republican lawmaker, who failed to pass several bills addressing criminal justice reform in Florida.

The report from the Boston-based Crime and Justice Institute of Community Resources for Justices also found that prison admissions had declined by 28 percent of the last decade, driven by the declines in crime. However in that same time period, average sentences have increased by 22 percent, balancing out the admissions decline and leading to a mostly stable prison population.

The study (which goes up to the end of 2015) also shows that, generally, it helps to get arrested in the southern and eastern parts of the state. Counties in those parts of Florida tend to send people to prison at a lower rate than northern, central and western counties.

“These patterns hold when looking at admissions per reported crime or admissions per arrest, which means that the disparity is not driven by underlying crime rates,” write the authors, who are Felicity Rose, Colbey Dawley, Yamanda Wright and Len Engel of the Crime and Justice Institute.

Although there has been a decline in prison admissions in the last ten years, that’s certainly not universally felt across the state.

Overall, 47 of 67 counties have experienced a decline in prison admissions since 2007,  while 20 counties saw an increase. Within these groups there was significant variation, with some counties cutting their prison admissions by half, while others tripled theirs over the same period.

Enhancements and mandatory minimum sentences have a significant effect on the Florida prison population. Almost 36,000 current Florida prisoners were sentenced with an enhancement or mandatory minimum, up 19 percent from 2007. These enhancements primarily impact length of stay in prison, leading to a stacking effect where offenders come in to prison but do not leave at the same rate.

There were proposals to address the state’s mandatory minimum terms in the Legislature this past session, but no significant policy changes were enacted. The report says that in 2016, staff from Florida’s Senate Committee on Criminal Justice conducted an inventory of mandatory minimum terms in Florida and identified 108 offenses that carry a mandatory minimum sentence.

Demographically, Florida has always been home to some of the nation’s oldest citizens, and that includes those who are incarcerated.

The report shows that the number of prisoners 50 years old and over grew by 65 percent in the last decade, with that growth generated by prisoners who extremely long sentences aging into the “elderly prisoner” demographic.

 

Jeff Brandes, Dana Young endorse Ed Hooper

Republican state Sens. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Dana Young of Tampa on Friday endorsed former state Rep. Ed Hooper in his quest to replace Clearwater Sen. Jack Latvala, who is term-limited in 2018.

Brandes called Hooper “a true advocate for his community … thoughtful, collaborative, and trusted.”

“These are some of the best qualities in a Senator and I’m happy to endorse him in his campaign for the State Senate,” he said. “He will help make Florida a more prosperous state for generations to come.”

Added Young, who left the House for the Senate last year: “As a former colleague of Ed’s, I can tell you from firsthand experience that he is a true leader and highly respected. I know he will make an excellent Senator and represent the people of Pinellas and Pasco counties with dignity and honor.”

Hooper said he was “honored” by the endorsements. Senate District 16 includes northern Pinellas and part of southwestern Pasco.

“They’ve set an example of how to work together to seek common sense and innovative solutions to Florida’s challenges,” he said. “Their continued leadership will make Florida a better place to live, work, visit, and retire.”

Hooper, a retired fire Lieutenant, served on the Clearwater City Council before spending eight years in the Florida House. He was term-limited in 2014. His only declared opposition is Democrat Bernie Fensterwald.

Florida’s bizarre fireworks law still in place

It’s almost Independence Day, which in Florida means: Time to scare some birds.

Although you can buy fireworks in the state, they’re not actually legal here.

Indeed, The Tampa Tribune in 2014 called fireworks sales in Florida an “institutionalized charade,” leading one lawmaker to call for “more freedom (and) less fraud.”

Retail sales are allowed only because of a 62-year-old loophole in the law, the only known one of its kind in the country.

That allows “fireworks … to be used solely and exclusively in frightening birds from agricultural works and fish hatcheries.”

Indeed, anyone who’s bought fireworks from a roadside tent over the years may remember signing a form acknowledging the buyer falls under an agricultural, fisheries or other exemption.

For the record, fireworks can also be used for “signal purposes or illumination” of a railroad or quarry, “for signal or ceremonial purposes in athletics or sports, or for use by military organizations.”

Enforcement is up to local police and fire agencies, and case law says fireworks vendors aren’t responsible for verifying buyers actually intend to chase off egrets or light up a track meet.

Every so often, lawmakers file bills either to remove or tighten certain exemptions, or to just legalize retail sales of fireworks. None have made it into law.

Three states have outright bans on consumer fireworks: Delaware, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, according to the American Pyrotechnic Association.

In Florida, former state Rep. Matt Gaetz once tried to legalize Roman candles, bottle rockets and other fireworks for recreational use. The Fort Walton Beach Republican is now a congressman.

And state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, pushed a similar bill prohibiting sales of fireworks and sparklers only to children under 16 and requiring other buyers to sign a disclaimer saying they know fireworks are dangerous.

“Florida law on fireworks is absurd,” he told FloridaPolitics.com last year. “Current law forces law-abiding parents to commit fraud by signing forms declaring the fireworks they buy won’t be used as fireworks to celebrate freedom with their kids, but to scare birds off crops.”

Current law “does not promote public safety and should be repealed to simply allow fireworks to be sold,” he added. “More freedom, less fraud.”

Most recently, state Sen. Greg Steube, the Sarasota Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, this year filed legislation to legalize consumer fireworks in Florida.

His bill (SB 324), which would have repealed the prohibition on selling fireworks to the general public, died in committee.

Editor’s Note: This story, which first ran last year, has been updated and re-published as a service to our readers.

On open records, half Florida’s legislators rate F or D

Half of Florida’s legislators failed or nearly failed in a review of their support for public records and meetings given by Florida newspapers and an open-government group after this year’s legislative sessions.

In a “scorecard” produced by the Florida Society of News Editors and based on information provided by Florida’s First Amendment Foundation — which tracked a priority list of public records exemptions — the 160 legislators totaled three Fs, 77 Ds, 71 Cs, and 9 Bs.

Each year FSNE completes a project devoted to Sunshine Weeka nationwide initiative to educate the public about the importance of transparent government. This year FSNE members created a scoring system to grade legislators on their introduction of bills and their final votes.

“As an advocate for open government, the grades of course, are disappointing,” said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, a nonprofit supported mostly by newspapers and broadcasters.

Several lawmakers contacted about their grades questioned the concept of fairly and accurately scoring how they addressed and decided on open records bills.

“It’s a little simplistic to think you can reduce this to a mathematical formula. It’s a little more complicated,” said Rep. Rick Roth, R-Wellington, who has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Emory University,

Roth, who was graded a D-minus, added, “The Sunshine Law is great in principle, but what it actually assumes is everybody is a crook. I just think it needs a little bit of tweaking.”

Florida’s Legislature established public records laws as early as the early 20th century, created the Government in the Sunshine Law in the late 1960s, and in 1992 established a “constitutional right of access.” Because of Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law, the state’s records and meetings are more accessible than in most states. But the Legislature has, year in and year out, instituted, or considered instituting, numerous exemptions. The body, on average, imposes up to a dozen a year.

Petersen said the recent session accounted for “a near record number of new exemptions created, but we see few bills that actually would improve access to either meetings or records.”

The 2017 Legislature created 26 exemptions and expanded another, then instituted yet one more exemption during its special session. Should Gov. Rick Scott approve all the 28 new exemptions, the grand total over the years would be 1,150.

Where does your legislator rank? See the scorecard

The three legislative Fs — actually F-minuses — were assigned to two representatives from southwest Florida and one from the Jacksonville area.

The single lowest score went to Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples, who sponsored House Bill 351, which would have made secret records of public college president searches; and House Bill 843, which would have allowed two members of a government board to meet privately. Both bills failed. Rommel also voted on the House floor against government openness in five of seven cases.

Rommel was joined in drawing an F by Rep. Byron Donalds, another Naples Republican; and Kimberly Daniels, a Jacksonville Democrat.

Daniels did not personally return a reporter’s call, instead providing a prepared statement that doesn’t directly address her grade but says that getting the two public records exemptions passed, as well as four others, as a freshman legislator, “exceeds more than I could have imagined accomplishing.”

And all five voted for HB 111, which hides the identification of murder witnesses — Harrell co-sponsored it — as well as SB 118, which hides criminal histories. Those two bills passed and were signed by Scott.

No legislator earned an A in the same way the others got the Fs. Rep. Joseph Geller, D-Aventura, voted for government openness in six of seven floor votes and earned a B-plus, the same grade given to Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana.

Despite his favorable score, Geller is bucking for “at least an A-minus,” pointing out that he so frequently asks about the First Amendment Foundation’s position on open government bills that he said he “got a pretty bad ribbing about it on the floor from other legislators.”

Just six Democrats and three Republicans earned a score of B-minus or better. And 17 Democrats and 63 Republicans drew grades of D-plus or worse.

For Democrats, the most common grade was a C-minus. Dozens of Republicans drew C-minus grades, but more got a D-plus.

Scores in the House were much more likely to be lower than those in the Senate. Some of that may be because of HB 111, which drew nearly two dozen sponsors and co-sponsors in the House. The bill, which hides information about witnesses to murders, was signed by Scott in May.

Roth, of Wellington, defended his position on secrecy for the process of hiring public college presidents, explaining that while he’d be OK with making candidates public once there’s a “short list” of finalists, he feared scaring away top-flight candidates who don’t want their respective college leadership to know they’re shopping for a new position.

On HB 843, dealing with talks between two officials, Roth said he voted for it — in fact he was a co-sponsor — but said it probably went too far and “I’m glad it failed.” He said he’d like to see a new bill with conditions that would satisfy opponents — such as requiring staff be present and notes be taken to be made public later. He said he supports trying to head off “skullduggery” but he said many elected bodies now are dominated by staffers who “pretty much drive the bus,” and since officials can’t talk in advance, “they don’t come to the board meeting fully informed.”

Roth also noted the bill to protect crime witnesses does require they’re eventually identified, and while he didn’t remember much of SB 118, he saw a desire to protect the privacy of people who had committed crimes in the past.

The First Amendment Foundation’s Petersen did note that, because the scorecard reflects only votes and sponsorship, it might skew perception of legislators’ attitudes toward open government.

For example, she said, Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Atlantis, who is in line to become Senate Democratic leader in 2018, “always has something to say about open government when something comes up on the (Senate) floor.”

But, she said, “what we would like to see is more awareness from some legislators, and we’re hoping that’s what this project will do.”

She said the last bill that improved access to meetings was pushed three years ago by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, now Senate President. And, she said, “We haven’t seen anything passed by the Legislature to enhance the right of access to public records since 1995. We did see a couple of bills that would improve access, but they didn’t even get a committee hearing.”

Some South Florida lawmakers also argued the scorecard’s narrow focus on open government doesn’t leave room for considering good policy.

On HB 111, for example, “It’s not that hard of a reach to say this law will keep others from being murdered,” said Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, who earned a C-minus. ” I realize they (the First Amendment Foundation) are a one-issue, one-note organization. But at a certain point, reality comes crashing in to any philosophy.”

And Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, who also earned a C-minus, said, “It’s not that I don’t respect the First Amendment Foundation. It’s that I’m going to do whatever I can do as a legislator to begin to bring justice to individuals who are being murdered senselessly.”

Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat and another of those who earned a C-minus, said, “People are trying to get good grades from these organizations, instead of looking at whether it’s fair policy. The only grade that matters is the one that my residents give me when they decide to re-elect me into office.”

Two of the top four grades went to Republican senators from Tampa Bay: Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Bill Galvano of Bradenton.

“Our goal is that there be a completely transparent and open government,” Brandes said. He, along with Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg — who received a B-minus — sponsored legislation that protects court clerks from being sued if they release confidential information due to an error committed by a lawyer involved in a case. Current law isn’t clear on the issue.

Diamond called HB 843, the proposal to let two elected officials meet, an “existential threat” to open government in Florida.

Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, who earned a D-plus, supported HB 843.

“In the Legislature, we can meet with another legislator one-on-one, so I thought that the state government shouldn’t be treated any differently than the local government,” he said.

Thirteen Tampa Bay area lawmakers scored below a C.

“This ‘scorecard’ was created by a special interest group that thinks legislators should cater to the group’s own political agenda rather than do what is in the best interest of the people of Florida,” said Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, who scored a D-plus.

Fred Piccolo, a spokesman for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Lutz — who scored a D-plus — called inclusion of HB 111, the witness-identity bill, in the scorecard, “just plain silly.” And Latvala said, “If I have to vote on that bill 100 more times, I will vote 100 more times for that bill.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

House Republican Dan Raulerson wants everyone to own a gun

The attempted assassination Wednesday morning of Louisiana Republican Congressman Steve Scalise in suburban Washington D.C. has shaken the nation.

Certainly, lawmakers now realize how vulnerable they are to mentally unstable people with access to firearms who disagree with them politically.

At Friday’s Tampa Tiger Bay Club, five members of the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation were asked their thoughts on what the shooting means for Floridians, and the nation.

Plant City Republican House member Dan Raulerson said the answer was simple — everyone, especially lawmakers — should be armed.

“I think each one of those congressmen should be carrying a weapon. I think we all should be carrying a weapon,” he said, creating a buzz of dissent in the audience among the liberal-leaning Tiger Bay members at Friday’s meeting at the Ferguson Law Center in downtown Tampa.

“I’m sorry folks, I’m sorry, but here’s the point,” Raulerson said. “The Constitution gives us the right to bear arms, but also gives us the responsibility to own and operate a weapon.”

As widely noted, probably the only reason there wasn’t more carnage on that baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia where Congressional Republicans were at practice was that Scalise, as a member of House leadership, had police protection. That’s something that most regular members of Congress don’t have.

“Now we’re discussing should we fund armed security for each of us?” Raulerson asked with disdain. “No, we can’t do that, we can’t afford that. But we do have the right and the ability to protect ourselves, and that’s what the Constitution gives us.”

The other two Republicans on the panel — Tampa House District 63 Rep. Shawn Harrison and Brandon Sen. Tom Lee — wouldn’t go as far as Raulerson in providing a tidy policy prescription based on the Wednesday’s shooting.

“Life is about balance. Law abiding citizens should be allowed to own guns,” said Harrison. “We have to do a better job of keeping guns out of the hands of people who have mental instability. Clearly what we had was a crazy person in Virginia who hated a different member of a political party, and took that out on those members of different political parties.”

Federal law enforcement officials identified the alleged shooter as James Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Illinois, who died following a shootout with authorities. He was said to be a Bernie Sanders supporter who loathed President Donald Trump and other Republicans.

Harrison said there’s too much hate in the country.

“We need to start realizing that just because you have an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ next to your name, you’re not the enemy of the other side,” he said, adding that “we need to work on constructive dialogue to keep crazy people from doing crazy things.”

Lee compared the situation to the drug problem in America, saying whether it’s pill mills or heroine or Fentanyl, “these are a demand-size problem, not supply-side problems.”

The two Democrats on the panel — St. Petersburg-based lawmakers Darryl Rouson and Wengay Newton, chimed in as well.

Rouson talked about the fact that he was pleased that though there was a slew of pro-gun bills on the agenda of some lawmakers (such as Sarasota Senate Republican Greg Steube, who had 10 such bills filed), few of them passed this year.

Newton said it was all about ensuring that the mentally ill didn’t get access to firearms, though he didn’t say how that could be accomplished.

“The laws are only put in for people who abide by the law,” he said. “If you’re not a law-abiding citizen, the law does not mean Jack.”

The Republicans on the panel were also challenged on two consecutive questions from the audience about their refusal to expand Medicaid when it came before them back in 2013 (that was the only year when a serious attempt for a hybrid form of Medicaid expansion was passed in the Senate but lost in the House).

Harrison had the distinction of being one of only three House Republicans to support the Senate bill (which earned him applause when he said that).

“My belief was while the feds are paying 100 percent, why not see if it can work?” he said.

Lee also supported the plan (only St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes opposed it in the Senate). He disputed that it was a clash between the parties, and said, in this case, it was “inner chamber problems.”

When asked how much they are paying for their health insurance, all five lawmakers confessed it was only $180 a month.

“Must be nice,” one audience member muttered.

With law now in place, Tampa Bay region moves closer to regional transit

Although modest in scope, Tampa Bay area lawmakers and business officials are happy that Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation (SB 1672) they believe is the first step toward creating a regional network to push for transit.

The bill changes the actual title of TBARTA. It will now be the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority (it used to be “transportation”).

The new agency is slightly smaller in scope in terms of geography, but not smaller than originally envisaged by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala, the bill’s Senate sponsor. The new TBARTA will include five counties — originally to include only three: Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco.

Later on, Manatee and Hernando counties were added. Now, only Citrus and Sarasota are the odd counties out.

The TBARTA board will consist of 15 members, including some from the business community to be selected by Scott, in addition to those selected by lawmakers.

An amendment supported by Tampa Bay-area Republican (and anti-light rail) Sens. Tom Lee and Jeff Brandes says that any funding of commuter, heavy or light rail must have approval by the Legislature.

 

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